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Southern Strategy

Kevin Drum disparages the notion that nominating a southerner is the key the victory. I sort of agree. The data used to support the "Southerners only" thesis is faulty. Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Bill Clinton in 1992 most certainly did get some help from their southern backgrounds, but it's also the case tat 1976 (because of Watergate) and 1992 (because of the recession and the end of the Cold War) were unusually favorable years for the Democrats. In light of the closeness of the 2004 election, it's clear that if John Kerry had had the sort of shitty economy at his back that Clinton was able to take advantage of, he would have won. It's also possible that Clinton could have won in '92 with an '04-style economy, but we just don't know. Kevin's assertion that "the South is lost to the Democratic party," however, seems off-base. Most notably, Florida certainly isn't lost to the Democratic Party. Now it's true that the reason Florida isn't lost to the Democrats is that a significant portion of the population isn't really southern. But winning votes among culturally southern white Floridians is part of the strategy for winning the state. You don't need to get 100 percent of their votes, or even 51 percent, but it needs to not be 5 percent. Virginia, Louisiana, and Arkansas are also by no means lost causes depending on how the stars are aligned.

It's important to remember that the centrality of Ohio in 2004 was largely a consequence of the fact that the Ohio economy performed unusually poorly over the past four years. That probably won't be the case four (or eight, etc.) years hence. On the other hand, the economies in Virginia and Florida were both very strong in 2004. That may not be the case four (or right, etc.) years hence. You simply can't know. It's important to retain tactical flexibility on these fronts.

All that said, there are regions in this country besides the Northeast and the South. The southwest and the region around the Great Lakes are the most consistently contested areas in the country, so it probably makes sense to have a certain bias toward nominees who are successful in those areas. On the other hand, Mike Easley did just win reelection in North Carolina in a bad year for Democrats. I don't know anything about Governor Easley, but I'd be curious to know more. If he seems like a reasonable candidate in some other respects, you'd have to think that a guy who might put North Carolina, Virginia, and Florida all within grasp is someone worth looking hard at. The party could, perhaps, use a nominating process that makes more sense than the current system of a year-long campaign no one pays attention to, followed by a six week free-for-all.

For the short term, though, what I'm most interested in is getting what's coming to us in 2006. One consequence of Bush's victory-through-regional-polarization should be that Democrats don't need to put up with Republican governors in California, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, etc. Consolidating control over the blue states obviously isn't the ultimate path to victory, but it ought to be the first step. If you can't win your own backyard, you're not ready to play.

November 6, 2004 | Permalink

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I've been reading Matthew Yglesias more lately. He's a Democrat, but doesn't seem to follow the usual Democratic folly. That doesn't mean he's always right mind you. [Read More]

Tracked on Nov 6, 2004 11:47:59 PM

Comments

Go west young man, not south. The choicest targets for the Democrats are New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and Colorado. And with the right combination of positions, the Democrats can still take back Ohio, Iowa and Florida.

Parts of the South are not out of reach, but are best left for 2012 rather than 2008.

Posted by: Dan Kervick | Nov 6, 2004 3:06:26 PM

What about the Senate?

Posted by: praktike | Nov 6, 2004 3:13:32 PM

Agreed that Democrats need Senators from the Red States.

The polarization has gone both ways in Presidential politics, and both parties have a lot more safe states than even ten years ago. All the shit about Democrats not being able to compete in the South is just psy-ops. The Republicans aren't able to compete in the NE or West coast.

My list of states to forget about came to 147 electoral votes. Other lists will vary, but the West Coast and NE come to far more than that.

Posted by: Zizka | Nov 6, 2004 3:18:36 PM

Easley won with little or no help from Kerry and Edwards. In fact, I don't think they ever appeared together in public. Easley was running on a platform of "look how well the state's economy is doing under me!" Clearly that was directly opposite what Kerry was running on ("The economy is in ruins!").

NC has had a Democratic governor since 1993. And, only three Republicans since 1877.

Posted by: cleek | Nov 6, 2004 3:21:21 PM

I hope this discussion/debate continues for another 6 months or so before we Democrats make any moves at all, as far as changes are concerned. We all reacted strongly from this election, and a lot of the reasons for our reactions were based on poorly thought out ideas. I know I change my mind about what has to be done almost daily now, other than concentrating on getting our voters to vote. My 87 year old neighbor pointed out to me today the power of the churches in inspiring their attendees to vote - they don't have to say "vote for Bush", they just use the proper code words and everyone gets it. The most comparable organizations we have are labor unions, but they, obviously, don't include as many voters as the churches. Maybe our flaw is that we aren't involved enough in organizations?

Posted by: Vaughn Hopkins | Nov 6, 2004 3:22:15 PM

Only 60% or so of Union voter went for Kerry, and they are a diminishing element of the electorate in any case.

Posted by: praktike | Nov 6, 2004 3:24:29 PM

Agreed on the Blue-state governors, particularly Romney. Isn't there some part of the Governor's Code that says: "Thou shalt not break bread with those who demonize the state you govern"?

However, I think it is also important to target Blue-state Republican Senators and Representatives. For example, looking at the Senate, that the Republicans have successfully taken down in Democrats in Georgia and South Dakota while the Democrats have not responded in kind in Rhode Island and Maine is, to my mind, an important factor contributing to continued Republican dominance.

Posted by: Ravi | Nov 6, 2004 3:28:28 PM

...but it's also the case tat 1976 (because of Watergate) and 1992 (because of the recession and the end of the Cold War) were unusually favorable years for the Democrats.

In 1992 we also had a major third party candidacy. I don't know if this is still in dispute or not, but I'm firmly of the opinion Bush would have been reelected if not for Perot.

Posted by: P.B. Almeida | Nov 6, 2004 3:28:44 PM

"One consequence of Bush's victory-through-regional-polarization should be that Democrats don't need to put up with Republican governors in California, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, etc."

Huh. I wasn't aware that letting Republicans win those races was some kind of deliberate choice. I'd kind of gotten the impression that you'd been trying all long to win those elections, and just got beat. How does Bush winning, and more Republicans in the House and Senate, change that any? Gonna just stop contesting races in "red" states, and spend all the saved money on "blue" state races?

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Nov 6, 2004 3:43:00 PM

Vaughn is quite correct on both counts: the Republicans would never win anything without churches and the Democrats lose because there are no unions.

Unions should come first and then the Democrats will win easily - in the South, West, East, North and Center, everywhere. Without unions they can only run as 'not as crazy as the Republicans' and thus they don't stand a chance on the national level.

Posted by: abb1 | Nov 6, 2004 3:45:29 PM

The real reason for the Republican governors in the Northeast is that voters see them as a balance against the corrupt Democratic legislatures. And as a NE Dem, that is a very sticky ball of wax.

Posted by: Mary R | Nov 6, 2004 3:59:18 PM

dont know where abb1 is from, but counting on unions in the south is wasted - we're 'right to work' states, with no unions. Quit depending on the south to starting thinking with their brains, and try to win where we can, instead. Southerners will NEVER trust (northern) liberal intellectuals no matter where they're from. Theyre the people who beat us and made us get rid of slavery and let blacks in our neighborhoods and think its ok for guys to hold hands and they just ruined our society.

Posted by: justa grata honoria | Nov 6, 2004 4:00:26 PM

"I don't know if this is still in dispute or not, but I'm firmly of the opinion Bush would have been reelected if not for Perot."

You bet it is in dispute. Even on the Right, who say Bush I abandoned his base. I know Republicans who say Bush I was the worst President of the Century.
....
And I keep looking at Mississippi. I know it is because of the black vote, but damn it just seems so purple.
....
And I think we need to start thinking about President pretty quick, cause candidates start working in 2006.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Nov 6, 2004 4:22:05 PM

It was a combination of things that took Bush 1 down, but I tend to agree with that sentiment. Bush was selected by Reagan to ballance the ticket, so that the party's liberals wouldn't jump ship. He was never in philosophical agreement with Reagan. But when the time came to run on his own, he came right out and told everybody that he'd learned his lesson by watching Reagan up close, and if Republicans wanted another Reagan, he was their man.

Then he got elected, and turned out to be another Walter Mondale. It wasn't just the no tax increases promise he broke, it was just about all of them, and he did it so quickly everybody knew he'd never had the slightest intention of keeping them. It was like he had a list of the party's constituencies, and was going down it, screwing them over in order.

Now, Dole, he was worse. He didn't wait to be elected to start planting the knives, the moron set out to piss off the Republican base as soon as he had the nomination in the bag. But I don't think Dole really wanted to be President... He just wanted the nomination as a sort of retirement gold watch.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Nov 6, 2004 4:49:06 PM

"One consequence of Bush's victory-through-regional-polarization should be that Democrats don't need to put up with Republican governors in California, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, etc."

Um, I live in California and work for the State's nonpartisan research service. Let me tell you: a lot of opponents of the recall now think Ahnuld is an okay guy, myself included. Indeed, I think our state has benefitted greatly from a divided government. Gov. Davis was no saint and the Democrats in the Legislature really did mismanage the budget (Though the people of California, who continually pass ballot measures they don't want to pay for, certainly played a role in the mismanagment too.).

What I fear is that Ahnuld could have problems with the Right. He has, after all, been a socially tolerant, mostly moderate governor with a few exceptions. His hardball acts haven't exactly panned out either. He got no new Republicans elected to the legislature and his last minute partisan shifts on the budget looked opportunistic to most people. He's also been a conservationist and put his weight behind the stem cell ballot measure as well as a public records amendment. In fact, other than supporting President Bush, Ahnuld hasn't given the Right a whole lot to be jubilant about.

Given a lot of people, including Democrats, were not thrilled with Davis, I'm not sure another Democrat could be elected to the governorship right now. Though it's California, wingnut radio has a powerful presence; it pretty much drove the recall. It could turn on Ahnuld if it's not happy with him. Indeed, I know religious conservatives are already extremely disatisfied with him. Hence, I'll be supporting Ahnuld, as will many Dems I think, because I don't want to see the Right elected to high office in my state.

Posted by: KC | Nov 6, 2004 4:50:34 PM

And I keep looking at Mississippi. I know it is because of the black vote, but damn it just seems so purple.

Yeah- my county in TN went blue, but nowhere near as blue as some counties in the Mississippi Delta. Of course, those are the people who are working in the Tunica casinos for minimum wage, and gutting catfish for a pittance, so they had a lot more at stake than mere sanctimony-- lousy labor & education policies actually hurt these people.

Regarding NE Republicans-- I certainly wouldn't mind the GOP so much if they were representative of its policies, instead of the whackjobs from Texas & Mississippi that run the show. Hell, Bloomberg joined the party as a political calculation only; he knew that a Dem primary battle would be expensive & damaging, and decided to take a bit of a shortcut. However, as little as I like it, it's probably time to start associating those mayors & governors with the national GOP... I somehow doubt that New Yorkers really want their local & state governments to be run like Alabama's, or for them to even be linked in others' minds.

Posted by: latts | Nov 6, 2004 4:55:37 PM

If you want a trophy hide to mount on the wall in 2006, look no further than Rick Santorum. Pennsylvania may not be as blue as some of the other blue states, but there's no reason for it to have a senator as far right as Man-on-Dog. Chafee and Snowe are legitimate targets too of course, but this is the guy you really want to take down.

Posted by: JP | Nov 6, 2004 5:40:42 PM

There are 14 Republican Senators up in 2006. Snowe (Maine) Santorum (PA) Chafee (RI) are from blue states. Ensign (NV) deWine (OH) Allen (VA) and Kyl (Az) are from states where Kerry ran reasonably well. The other seven do look untouchable except by a super-candidate.

With Republican Party discipline as it is, moderate Republicans are really about as bad as ordinary Republicans. They really have to be targetted, the way the R's targetted conservative Southern Democrats.

Posted by: Zizka | Nov 6, 2004 5:58:15 PM

Unseat Snowe and Chafee, and Republicans might actually thank you. They certainly won't weep, considering it an even trade, and maybe a step up, in that a Democrat who will admit to being a Democrat is somewhat more honest than one who won't.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Nov 6, 2004 6:04:52 PM

Well in that case, you're welcome.

Posted by: JP | Nov 6, 2004 6:12:16 PM

I think you're right about taking or preseving hold of our state houses (in my home state of Washington that's up in the air right now, but I'm optimistic). It also seems to me that we need to do something useful with them once we get them. Merely having Democratic governors and legislatures isn't nearly as interesting as using them to improve the lot of poor, uninsured, and minority citizens within their borders. We may be without real federal power for a very long time. If we don't use our power where we have it, we're not ready to play.

Posted by: jim s | Nov 6, 2004 6:25:28 PM

"...it's clear that if John Kerry had had the sort of shitty economy at his back that Clinton was able to take advantage of, he would have won..."

Interesting, according to Kerry and the "reality based community" (laughs) Bush had ruined our economy and Kerry was going to be our Saviour. Please make up your mind, the economy was shitty, or it is not shitty. Or is it relative to whatever position you now want to take?

Other than that, why even bother, in 08 it will come down to Hillary or Obama...if they aren't the candidates, you will all be crying in your chardonnay's once again post election.

Posted by: Chris Ashbrook | Nov 6, 2004 6:38:30 PM

There are 14 Republican Senators up in 2006. Snowe (Maine) Santorum (PA) Chafee (RI) are from blue states. Ensign (NV) deWine (OH) Allen (VA) and Kyl (Az) are from states where Kerry ran reasonably well.

No chance at DeWine in Ohio; too much money on hand and the Ohio Democratic Party is a myth. There are virtually no viable statewide candidates and those that have any talent (Jerry Springer, alas) will be looking at the Governor's race in '06.

Ohio needs built from the ground up. The Repubs hold a 2-1 advantage in the state assembly.

We should be re-named New Alabama.

Posted by: Mark | Nov 6, 2004 6:40:19 PM

Oh, that's a good point, Jim S. Check out the current legislative makeups of the Big Three states.

PENNSYLVANIA
State House: 109 R / 94 D
State Senate: 29 R / 21 D
U.S. House: 12 R / 7 D

OHIO
State House: 62 R / 37 D
State Senate: 22 R / 11 D
U.S. House: 13 R / 5 D

FLORIDA
State House: 81 R / 39 D
State Senate: 26 R / 14 D
U.S. House: 18 R / 7 D

Now, pardon me, but WTF is going on here? These are arguably the three closest states in the whole country with respect to presidential elections, and the Democrats are just getting their asses handed to them in every single legislative race, state or federal. States are generally supposed to vote more conservative in presidential elections, not less. Something is seriously wrong here. I mean, 81-39 in the Florida State House? That's just unacceptable.

Between these three states, we have 43 Republicans to 19 Democrats in the House of Representatives: a 24-seat GOP advantage. In other words, just those three states make up about 90% of the Republican Party's majority! If we could just split 50-50 like we do with the presidency, the House would almost be in Democratic hands. But we can't do that because of Republican gerrymandering, and we can't stop Republican gerrymandering because the Democrats get blown out in state legislative races year after year.

Something has to be done about this. Can someone get Daily Kos and co. to concentrate their firepower where it could actually make a difference instead of trying to pick off Tom DeLay and Roy Blunt? Build the farm system from the ground up, instead of trying to find free agents to save you at the last minute.

Posted by: JP | Nov 6, 2004 6:43:46 PM

Chris: Actually, I'll be crying in my Alvaro Palacios Les Terrasses 2002 Priorato.

OTOH, you'll likely be celebrating your newfound homelessness. Not to worry, though, there's probably a faith-based shelter somewhere near you.

Cheers.

Posted by: Jadegold | Nov 6, 2004 6:45:17 PM

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